Bethel Baptist a busy place

Problem: The Ellicott City church is a beehive of activity all week long, and that's why its members voted against having a Lowe's store next door: too much traffic.

August 31, 2001|By Jean Leslie | Jean Leslie,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In late June, many Ellicott City residents sang the praises of Bethel Baptist Church after the church voted not to accept a plan to build a Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse on Montgomery Road.

"We became involved in this issue when it was hooked to getting a traffic light for the church. Since Long Gate Shopping Center was built, making a left turn out of here is very dangerous," said the Rev. Bruce Romoser, the church's pastor.

Take a look at the church's weekly schedule and you'll better understand the problem:

Sundays: Sunday school and morning and evening worship. Two additional congregations - a Chinese Baptist church and Emmanuel Messianic Church - also worship in Bethel's facilities.

Mondays: Meetings of Youth Discipleship Bible Study, trustees and other administrative committees.

Tuesdays: The Alleluias, a Christian music group, sings.

Wednesdays: The Pioneer Club and Royal Ambassadors, children's Scout troops, two choirs and a prayer group meet.

Fridays: Daytime women's fellowship meets during the school year, and the Prime Timers, a senior activities group, meets monthly for lunch. Each weekday during the school year, parents take their children to Christian preschool.

This active calendar translates to many left turns from Bethel Baptist's driveway, which offers poor visibility, onto busy Montgomery Road. So Bethel Baptist's decision to turn down the Lowe's project, after developers had offered to build an access road to the Long Gate Shopping Center traffic light, may seem counterintuitive to some.

"Our government is congregational, so each church member voted after three days of fasting and prayer. We each voted according to what God laid on our heart, how God spoke to us," Romoser said.

Land owned by the church would have been used for one of the store's driveways and for part of the store. Those involved with the Lowe's project have said the church's rejection will make it difficult to build the store.

In mid-July, soon after the vote was cast, a sign was erected in front of the church, a gift from parishioner Jim Lewis of Heartlands Retirement Community. Telling of activities and hours, and using an occasional quip, the sign has attracted people to services.

Bethel Baptist sponsors activities for people of every age. Becky MacEwen, director of the Sunday school, has enrolled 200 preschool-through-adult students in studies that run each Sunday year-round. "Most Sundays, we have 75 percent or better attendance," she said.

Another cross-generational program is Discipleship Training, or "Biblically based continuing ed," according to Director Joyce Strickland. New Christians, both adults and children, receive a "survival kit" teaching the basics of the Christian faith, prayer and practical matters such as new ways to handle conflicts.

Strickland also recommends materials for more advanced students in the men's and women's fellowships, which meet at 7 p.m. Tuesdays.

Linda McHargue, coordinator of the evening women's fellowship, said: "We have 20 women of all ages who center on Scripture-based lessons that are applicable to women. It's a very great blessing to invite each other to intimacy in the Lord."

To meet the needs of the congregation's young mothers, a daytime fellowship gathers every Friday through the school year under the leadership of Kim Harris.

Teen-agers have a rich menu of activities in the youth program, led by Youth Director Dan Conrades. During the "Withdraw to Advance" retreat next month in Ocean City, teens will develop a Scripture-based theme and purpose for the year's activities.

On Sept. 22, young people will gather over dinner with their parents to discuss the retreat.

Senior citizens hold an important place in this church. The Prime Timers gather monthly for a midday meal, recreation and a service project.

"Our prime objective is senior outreach, not a senior center. We want seniors to enjoy coming and to also do good work," said Senior Ministry Chairman Ed Nettleship. "Once a month, we feed a full meal to a group of homeless people in the Curtis Bay area. This fall, we'll sponsor an Angel Tree. After learning the names of children of people in the prison system, we organize church members to give gifts of clothing and a toy, then deliver the gifts to the family home."

This fall, worship services will center on the "Spiritual 50-day Adventure," when for eight weeks the church community will focus on practicing the presence of the unseen Christ. Paired with the spiritual adventure are special events such as a biblical meal with a menu typical of the first century.

The traffic issue waits while church life continues.

"We live one day at a time and view the future with optimism," says Romoser. "I know that a number of people were surprised that we voted against the development plan.

"The issue is on our prayer list. God will strengthen the church so that we can come together with the developer and our neighbors to learn what we can all agree on."

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